So there's all this stuff here...upstairs with the small parts, uniforms, and personal effects of the people who once flew here, and all these mostly-yellow airplanes in the hangar. So what? What was the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan anyway? Well, if we look at Canada and its political leadership in the years leading up to the war, the BCATP was the vision of then-Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King. In the late 1930s, he was completely taken in by Hitler's charisma. King's own diary entries show us that he didn't think war would be a possibility and that Hitler's annexation of other countries would cease. In any event, it wasn't something Canada would get involved in like the First World War. But if war did happen, then Canada's contribution would be to provide pilot and aircrew training for any and all Commonwealth nations that went to war.
Things, of course, turned out very differently than Mackenzie King hoped they would. Canada declared war on Nazi Germany on 10 September 1939 and began to mobilize its air, land, and sea forces almost from scratch like we had done in 1914. We went on to commit a great deal more than just pilot training, but that aspect of our contribution was immense. Half the pilots, navigators, bombardiers, air gunners, wireless operators (radio operators), and flight engineers who served with the Royal Air Force (RAF), Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm (FAA), Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), and Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) during the war trained in Canada. Trainees also included men from other non-Commonwealth Allied nations, such as Argentina, Belgium, Ceylon, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Finland, Fiji, France, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and even the United States.
In all, 131,533 Allied pilots and aircrew were trained in Canada, 72,835 of which were Canadian. By 1943, the BCATP programme required some 100,000 administrative personnel at 107 schools and 184 supporting units at 231 locations all across Canada.
Flight training for pilots was done on deHavilland Tiger Moth-type aircraft. From there, they would graduate to the North American Harvard, such as the one pictured here. This is a Mk. II model and would have been used for advanced flight training in addition to other uses, such as training wireless operators and navigators.
Pilots selected for fighter aircraft would then graduate to airplanes such as the Hawker Hurricane. A Mk. XII model is shown here at the museum in Brandon. This particular plane is almost all hand-made and its fuselage is a combination of several aircraft. The Mk. XII was a Canadian variant, built by the Canadian Car and Foundry company of Montreal at its various factories throughout the country. Although the overall shape is the same as the Mk. I Hurricanes that fought in the Battle of Britain, the Mk. XII has some noticeable differences. The most obvious ones are the lack of a fairing to cover the propeller hub and the pleated wingtips. Not so obvious is the more powerful Packard Merlin Mk. 29 engine that cranks out an incredible 1,300 hp.
Pilots selected for bomber aircraft would graduate to larger aircraft like the Bolingbroke or Avro Anson. This is the flight deck of an Anson, a twin-engined aircraft used for training both pilots and navigators. This particular aircraft is a Mk. V model and, unlike bombers and fighters, this type of plane was used after the war in civilian freight and passenger service all around the world.